A large, established, competitive firm opened up it's doors to a bunch of non-vetted and definitely uncontrollable bloggers. And not only it's doors, they gave us full freedom to roam, ask, poke - no restrictions.
I think some of the "press handlers" were a bit uneasy at some of the press meetings, I mean when you invite people like Dennis, James and David you get somewhat unexpected questions in a somewhat more frank form than they're used to... a good sign though that they stayed behind and kept the discussion going after the classic press people left the room. Kudos to the PR/Press department for opening up!
It was not a corporation we met, it was people, smart, engaged and open people - herewith a big thank for spending time with us and being so open to Marilyn, Craig, Mark, Mark, Amir, Charles, Frank, Frank, Bill and many, many others. And Thomas of course.
And then we found a firm which does a damned good job, executes proficiently, who's serious about what it does and which does many things right. Respect I say.
Myself, having a direct interest in the enterprise software space, albeit with a slight twist (or perhaps twisted sight some may say) poked around, queried, discussed and never stopped. Much appreciated, SAP has earned a few stars in my book now.
For more helicopter view of what we learned I'd rather refer to Dennis, James, Prashanth and David - I'll stick to my very own personal views in the light of my take on and interest in enterprise software.
Marketing departments are marketing departments (sigh), but I would suggest that the SAP strategists put on the critical hat and re-read some of the stuff, there might be things to challenge, or be challenged by:
"World of business is driven by change" found it's way into a promotional video snippet before the first keynote. Me, I would suggest to my potential customers that they "drive the change". More fun and often more profitable to be leader than follower. Sun Tzu and Game Theorists would agree with me - the one who prompts the reaction is in control...
Defending their "pre packaged" approach they have stuff like "Should the prime rate ever come in al dente, we'll make one kind of software solution" - come, come I say, strategies springs out of the same question "What value to deliver to what customer and how to be different" leading to same business model task "how to use resources to deliver that value and keep some yourself". If your software was designed to develop from that end and not from the nitty-gritty accounting or inventory end of things, then the software would be one kind. But we do know where SAP comes from.
Then I tried to get my messy head around the immensity of SAP and understand why it is so complex, even tried to understand if I'm completely off piste when I say that it should be possible to simplify. Really simplify.
So here's my rough and simple take on that:
Organisational hierarchies as model + acceptance of applications + event or transaction based processes = huge complications.
Let me expand...
Organisational hierarchies, I see these as having one single purpose - to deliver the workflow, implement the business model. Organisational hierarhy is a model in itself developed in times when we had no IT and based on human nodes and their old-hat communication modes.
Using IT to model a model that was modelled using non-IT methods must end up rather... eh... messy.
Applications are true mashups of tasks. Your word processor is used for creating an offer, make a report, order a widget, whatnot. Having "workstations" like this for multiple tasks creates much back and forth, loss of flow, messy data and of course - complication again.
Event- or transaction-driven workflow is interesting as it produces two sets of data objects per task - one order and one report / sheet/ document. 23 tasks and you have 46 data objects - hello reconciliation and be embraced by much complexity. As Frank mentioned to me, Berlin had 12,500 forms, now with SAP's help they pared it down to 3,500. Well gentlemen, take 21 unique objects and you can build a few billion different forms... or use one object only to drive the flow, well... hint, hint.
Take three sources of complexity and mix'em up, well, it gets hugely complex. And complexity inevitably leaves "white spaces".
Funny thing, or rather quite sensible thing, SAP uses those white spaces to their own advantage creating a Partner Ecosystem in the same swat - effectively enlarging their salesforce and powerbase tremendously.
IWC Shaffhausen and Blancpain get paid for immensely complex watch movements, SAP ditto, but an IWC watch is indulging in luxury while run your business systems should not pay for such luxury or what?
Disclosure time: Thingamy skips the organisational hierarchy leaving all workflows to be delivered by the system, rips the tasks out of the applications and puts them where they belong in the flows and lets the things/objects drive the flows with objects to represent one on one (data to real world object) to build any form, sheet, document, report you want when report-time comes.
In the Wednesday keynote Shai Agassi revealed that they introduced the BI Accelerator, in essence moving the complete database into accessible memory thus increasing speed 100 fold. Good thinking I say! Of course we've been there since our inception six years ago... in addition we built our own OODB straight into the core so we look at even more than the 100 fold.
Governance, Risk and Compliance. Good stuff, and most important of course. Spending some time at one of their "pods" with that heading I found that SAP is taking much of the same path as we're taking (with thingamy), except we focus a bit more on absolute true history of objects and true transparency as that in itself delivers instant ethics and moral. Hey, even a thief would think twice before stealing in front of everybody. In fact we build more on this "look over the shoulder" thinking instead of pre-set flags and walls as SAP does.
No bad idea to have flags, but it requires much management of specific rules - and no rules are ever completely fool-proof either. Methink it has a slight tendency towards creating a false feeling of security - sounds nice, not so efficient in reality as any wall, fence or rule has holes. So we'll stick to the notion of real historical truth transparency as it prepares us for the next regulation as well, whatever it is.
Where we are identical is the importance of process - do not offer temptation, good thing that this is easily fixed by process.
SAP has in my mind one big advantage in the world of middleware and SOA - they have a core, a platform in it's heart. Many will disagree with me here, but if you have one place for much of the raw data and apply logic to it on the outside you loose less and have more power. Too bad that it covers so few of the processes a business is made out of.
But hey, those whitespaces is what creates their grand Ecosystem!
That core by the way is not very young, thus it may lack a few built in standards - support for XML-RPC in the core for example (as we do of course). That makes for many bespoke interfaces to the outside world. But what can they do? They've got what they have and that is that.
Just have to love the SDN and BPx communities, well done SAP. Of course the BPx (now 50,000 members after only a few weeks, SDN has 700,000 +) interest me, the bridge between business and IT as they said.
Luckily I was introduced to Marilyn who's responsible for the BPX community - and not being able to keep mum I gave her a quick intro to our rather radical take on processes (thing driven / ball is the game instead of event / transaction driven). Marilyn being in the market for provocative messages wanted me to join the community, to which I was flattered of course.
Mark though, soon found out that I might be a tad too close to becoming a potential competitor dragged his feet - which I do understand! BTW, challenged him to mention one business function that thingamy could not cover... for a beer... the bet is still running :)
As a wrap up, completely sticking my neck out now - the question you may ask, if I'm right, or even half right, or a quarter right, would SAP be able to change and go more in the direction I'm pointing to?
Sure they could, but it would mean rethinking and ditching their core, kill the Ecosystem and live with lower margins (I'm asking much, much less). It's been done before, sometimes it must be done - but the investors with less than five, six, ten year patience would not be happy... ;)